Considerations for Choosing Your Small Business Name

This is a guest post submitted by Sarah Levy of Merchant Express. Visit the Merchant Express Resource Center for more great small business resources.

What’s in a name? When it’s the name of your small business, there’s a lot riding on getting it right. There was a time when all you had to do was choose a moniker that reflected the products or services your business provides — Ahab’s Fish Shack, for example, or Betty’s Yarn Barn. But today, with the emergence of brands and marketing, the Internet and social media, a little more reflection and homework is in order.

Choosing the Right Name

Ideally, you will choose the name that most closely reflects your brand identity. Brand (derived from branding, as in cattle) is defined as a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as being distinct from those of other sellers. Think of your brand as the personality that identifies your business. Your brand identity is the outward expression of your brand.


When choosing a name for your small business, consider not only how it will sound but how it will look on a sign, on the web, in social media and as part of your logo. Obviously, it needs to be long enough to convey your brand but not so long as to become an impediment to the applications listed.

Make sure it reflects your business philosophy and culture, and that it appeals to your target market. Does it truly “fit” your business, or is it too formal (or not formal enough?) It should be unique enough to be memorable and lend itself to being featured in a variety of settings.

Trademark the Name

A trademark is a brand name. Once you’ve settled on a name (or two or three), you must check to make sure it (or a close variation) is not already trademarked. Learn everything you need to know about trademarks on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) website. Not only does it provide basic information about trademarks, but it also allows you to search trademarks, file forms online, check their status and view documents.

“Although not required, most applicants use private trademark attorneys for legal advice regarding use of their trademark, filing an application, and the likelihood of success in the registration process, since not all applications proceed to registration,” according to the USPTO site. “A private trademark attorney (not associated with the USPTO) may help you avoid many potential pitfalls.”

Filing for a trademark costs less than $300. Applications are accepted online through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).

Federal registration of a mark is not mandatory, but it does have its advantages, primary of which is the protection of your rights. Other benefits include:

  • a notice to the public of your claim of ownership of the mark
  • a legal presumption of ownership nationwide
  • the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the registration.

It is important to note that the USPTO does not monitor the use of trademarks, although it does attempt to ensure that no other party receives a federal registration for an identical or similar mark for related goods or services. Consequently, as the owner of the trademark, you are responsible for bringing any legal action to stop a party from using an infringing mark.

Register Your “Doing Business As” Name

When you form a business, the legal name of the business defaults to the name of the person or entity that owns the business. If you choose to call it something else, you should register the new name as a DBA (Doing Business As) name. This is also referred to as a trade name or assumed name.

Registering your DBA lets your state government know that you’re doing business as a name other than your own personal name or the legal name of your partnership or corporation. Registering the legal name of your business is important because it is required on all government forms and applications, including your application for employer tax IDs, licenses and permits.

If your name is also your business name, you can skip DBA registering. A DBA is typically needed by sole proprietors or partnerships and for existing corporations or LLCs. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a DBA guide online.

Claim Your Website Address

Your URL is crucial to your web presence, so claim it as soon as possible. You can find out if your business name has already been taken online by doing a simple web search — just type it into a search engine and hit “enter”.

If it’s not already being used, you also need to see whether the domain name is available. Visit the WHOIS data base of domain names and follow the step-by-step instructions.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to set up your social media identity as well, starting with Facebook and Twitter. Note that Facebook requires you to have 25 fans in order to claim a vanity or custom URL. Many businesses reach this milestone quickly by asking friends, family and customers to “like” their FB page.

Whatever name you end up using, really own it — and best of luck in your small business endeavors!


Coaches: It’s Time to Button Up Your Branding

Coaches: Get your brand elevator pitch right

In my brand consulting practice at BrandTwist I’ve been fortunate to work with a variety of coaches as clients: Life Coaches, Business Coaches, Distance Learning Coaches and even Art Therapy and Nutritional Coaches.

[sc:optinbox]Although they represent many different areas of expertise, as a group I find coaches to be incredibly passionate and giving. As much as I’ve taught them about branding – I’ve also learned so much from them about the subjects they so passionately coach.

Here’s another thing they have in common: They need some serious um… coaching… when it comes to branding.

Tell Your Elevator Pitch in Two Flights not Twenty

The most common issue I’ve observed among this group is that as giving people, they tend to want to give too much information about themselves, their backgrounds and their brand benefits.

Their brand elevator pitch – which should take up 2 flights and 2 minutes – tends to take about twenty flights and often up to twenty minutes. No matter how fascinating your business is, this is way too long to explain to prospective customers what you do.

So here are some Brand Coaching tips for telling people about your brand and business in a succinct way that leaves them wanting more… Not rolling their eyes and heading for the door.

These are specifically geared to coaches, since so much of what they are offering comes from their personal expertise (vs. a more tangible product like a soft drink or an airline flight), but I think they are relevant for any good Brand Story teller.

Eight Branding Tips for Coaches

1. Pay attention to your audience, what motivates them? Your pitch can and should vary somewhat by audience, know what the ask is. Do you want an introduction to someone else, a purchase, an investment, coverage on a blog? Know this up front and make sure you ask for what you want by the close.

2. Talk about what your brand enables people to do – not just what you offer – an emotional promise fulfilled will create a loyal user.

3. Add something personal and memorable to your story – perhaps something visual – the best stories give specific details we can connect with.

4. Think about your story in terms of a headline and three supporting points – more than three is hard for your audience to remember.

5. Try out different versions on different people – see which ones get the lean forward effect, and which ones elicit a yawn or maybe a distracted eye roll.

6. Keep honing and editing – a story is never actually finished. New events happen that are significant and should be incorporated. Also updating stories keeps them fresh and interesting.

7. Have a short version, but be ready to follow up with more – think about your elevator ride for your elevator pitch. Make sure you have the two-floor version but also be prepared for the twenty-floor ride to the penthouse

8. Notice stories that move you and why. This could be movies, things you read in the newspaper… Think about what elements of that story caught your attention and is there a parallel element that could help you tell your own brand story? I don’t mean copying the content, but maybe borrowing the technique.

Learn more at Brand School.

A serious commitment to branding is a smart investment for small and midsize businesses that want a deeper understanding of customers’ needs. The ability to exceed expectations and communicate ideas with crystal clarity can exert an almost gravitational pull on customers, which translates to easier customer acquisition and increased customer loyalty.

You can learn everything you need to know about branding and how to apply it to your business, with Brand School, the premier program for business owners and entrepreneurs who want to grow their brand. Brand School combines hands-on exercises, exclusive online videos, and access to a community of fellow brand-building entrepreneurs.

“Brand School allowed me to get to the essence of my  brand. I was able to hone and tighten up my brand. Thank you, Julie, it’s a great program.” – Jonathan Flaks, President, Jonathan Flaks Coaching Associates

Can Your Brand be Written as a Haiku?

Branding is often complicated.

But it doesn’t always need to be.

Sometimes the simpler the message, the more it breaks through.

I participated in an interesting Webinar recently. It was from The Writer, a brand consultancy that focuses on helping companies use words more powerfully.

They led the attendees through a really useful exercise, where you were asked to explain your brand as a Haiku.

You remember Haiku’s right? They are Japanese poems consisting of 17 syllables in the form of three lines (5-7-5 syllables per line respectively).

Here’s what I came up with for BrandTwist:

A seed of insight
Nurtured by twisting to thrive
A strong brand blossoms

I love this exercise because it forces you to take ideas and strip them down to their bare essentials. With only 17 syllables, you need to make every word count. Use it when you find yourself trying to describe something and you feel is just getting too complicated. For example, a job description, a product benefit, or why someone should choose your brand over another.

It’s funny, but the constraint of the Haiku can actually be quite liberating. If you can’t express your idea simply, you need to step back and rethink what you are trying to communicate. Because if you can’t strip it down, chances are your target audience will have trouble understanding as well.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
Can you describe your brand in a Haiku?

Read the story of’s business owner, Lynn Stull’s, experience of doing this Haiku exercise to help build her brand HERE.

Our Brand School program will give you the insight and tools you need to keep your brand creative and innovative. Learn more about our next enrollment and a one-on-one Brand Health Check Strategy Session HERE.

“The value I received from my investment was incredible and I have no doubt that it will continue to pay dividends to me.”  – Lynn Stull, Owner Arts2Thrive

Do Blondes Have More Fun? Starbucks Thinks So

I recently came across this new Blonde coffee variety from Starbucks and I think it’s a great example of a name that’s descriptive without being boring.

Starbucks could have gone with more traditional descriptors like “Light” for this new variety.

But by choosing the name “Blonde” they are both helping the consumer navigate the choice of the many varieties and imparting a bit of personality – part of the strategy of what has made this brand so strong. They understand that it’s about the experience – not just the functionality. And they have always known that the devil is in the details.

Too often brands think the have to make a choice between clear and clever.

Starbucks shows you can have your (coffee) cake and eat it too.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What other great descriptive names have you noticed?

Identifying your specific market niche and honing your brand’s verbal identity takes strategic thinking. Our Brand School program will give you actionable steps and strategies that you can use to grow a strong brand.  Receive more information about the next semester and receive free brand-building tools and tips when you join our mailing list.

Please also join us on Twitter and Facebook for more insight and discussion on branding.

“Brand School allowed me to get to the essence of my  brand. I was able to hone and tighten up my brand. Thank you, Julie, it’s a great program.” – Jonathan Flaks, President, Jonathan Flaks Coaching Associates

Navigating the Brand Jungle

Is branding getting harder? Every generation of marketers probably thinks it’s got the biggest challenges (just ask the perpetually scowling Don Draper of Mad Men fame).

But while I believe these are very exciting times for marketers, it does seem like we are in midst of some unique challenges that require not new thinking…but a more diligent adherence to the fundamentals that have always made brands strong.

I discussed this in more detail on a webinar in partnership with a Getty Images. This was an informative event with lots of insight from experts and contributions from webinar participants. I urge you to watch for further events like this to stay up to date on branding and marketing industry news.

You can catch the entire presentation HERE.

Below is a recap of what I see as the top challenges and some strategies to navigate through them (with or without the Don Draper martinis).

3 Top Branding Challenges 

#1 Cutting Through the Increasing Clutter
Advertising and messaging clutter is not a new issue, but it’s one that’s getting worse. Why is this? There has been a shift from mass media to a greater number of more targeted channels. However, since most consumers still view multiple channels, this means that they see more messages. The average HH has 300 channels vs. 61 in 2000. Also new technologies mean that consumers are exposed to messages on new devices- like smart phones and tablets. Lastly many retail stores,